by Cheryl Critchley

Sleep: are your boys getting enough?

Portrait of cute lad sleeping with his head on open bookPortrait of cute lad sleeping with his head on open book

Ensuring that teenage boys get adequate sleep has never been easy, but the digital age has made it even trickier – our teens face far more distractions than we did at the same age. Social media, gaming, increased study pressures: all these affect how much sleep adolescents get.

Add to this the fact that sleep duration can be reduced by stress, anxiety, insomnia, life challenges, sleep apnoea and hormonal changes, and it’s plain to see why rising early can be a physical struggle for teenage boys.

Regardless of its cause, sleep deprivation can lead to problems such as irritability, fatigue, mood swings, lack of concentration, impaired school performance, stress, anxiety and even depression.

Why getting enough sleep is vital

A recent Columbia University study found that teenagers who got to sleep after midnight had a 24% higher risk of depression than those in bed before 10pm. Those with later bedtimes were also 20% more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Some experts recommend 9 or 10 hours’ sleep a night, but Monash University clinical psychologist and sleep researcher Dr Bei Bei says there is little empirical evidence to support a blanket recommendation. “Sleep research does not yet know the magic number,” says Dr Bei.

A recent study by Dr Bei and her associates1 found that adolescents stayed in bed for around 9 hours on average during school holidays when they did not have to get up early to attend school, but it was difficult to tell if this was enough.

“Every child’s sleep needs are different, and the best way to tell whether they are getting enough sleep is based on how they feel during the day,” says Dr Bei.  “If they struggle to get out of bed, yawn throughout the day, have difficulty concentrating or are grumpy/moody due to sleepiness, they probably are not getting enough sleep.”

Establishing good sleeping habits at a young age helps, but adolescence throws up new challenges, many technology and hormone-related.

Melbourne clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller says adequate sleep is one of the most powerful ways to protect teenagers from depression and other health problems.  He says less than 6 hours a night can have the effect of a .05 blood alcohol level.

“The structures in the brain that support the most powerful anti-depressant, serotonin, are built and re-built between the sixth and the eighth hour of sleep,” says Fuller. “Over 60% of people who sleep 5 or less hours a night end up obese and depressed.”

Technology and sleep

Many parents despair about late-night technology use. Monash University researcher Emily Harbard says children and adolescents are getting less sleep than in the past, but research has not yet confirmed the exact reasons.

“In our most recent study… more frequent video gaming (but not other technology use) before bed was most consistently associated with later bedtime, during both school and vacation,” says Harbard. “It is also associated with shorter sleep duration on school days.”

Most other technology use, such as TV, web browsing and social media, did not have as strong impact on bedtime. 

“Adolescents might engage in these behaviours before bed because they do not yet feel sleepy, as maturational processes… typically lead to adolescents being less sleepy at night,” Emily says.

Emily’s study found that boys were 1.5 times more likely to engage in video gaming in the hour before going to bed than girls. But their engagement in other technologies were similar.

Boys had about 35 minutes’ less sleep per night than girls during school holidays and 21 minutes less during term. It was unclear whether technology contributed, as gaming also affected some girls’ sleep.

How to ensure your son logs off at night
Most tweens and teens have pre-paid phones or limited data allowances, which means they rely on the household Wi-Fi when they’re at home. 

Turning off the router (which generates your home Wi-Fi signal) at a certain time each night will cut everyone’s internet access. Using the router, you can specify when each device will be online or off. If adults want to remain online, they can individually program each device’s internet access. Parents can also filter inappropriate content using key words.

To do this, you need to find your router online. Each has its own (IP) address accessed via an internet browser. The parental control section allows online access to be individually controlled for all registered devices. Those who need help finding it can Google “how to access your router online” or ask a tech-savvy friend.

Over 60% of people who sleep 5 or less hours a night end up obese and depressed.

Andrew Fuller, Melbourne clinical psychologist

Family time can promote good sleep

Taking control of Wi-Fi isn’t the only way to encourage good sleep habits. Dr Bei says building a good relationship with boys and creating a supportive and consistent family routine can go a long way towards promoting healthy sleep patterns.

“One of the positive findings from our study, is that spending time with family in the evening was consistently associated with earlier school bedtime and longer sleep duration,” says Dr Bei. 

“We cannot tell whether family time is causing earlier and longer sleep, but it seems to be a protective factor. It is also possible that boys are less likely to engage in behaviours such as video gaming if they enjoy spending time with family away from the screens.”

Internationally recognised sleep researcher and Director of the Child & Adolescent Sleep clinic at Flinders University, Dr Michael Gradisar, agrees that sleep requirements vary depending upon individual needs.

Dr Gradisar says it is important to have a bedtime routine, but parents also need to be sympathetic to the biology of adolescents. “Biology is the major contributor to adolescent sleep problems,” he says. “But teenagers do need to try to have a regular evening and morning routine.”

Quick tips to help your teenage boy sleep well:

  • Go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Use dim lights at night and brighter lights in the morning.
  • Decrease caffeine consumption late in the day (no caffeine 6 hours before bedtime is recommended)
  • Decrease sugar in your diet.
  • Avoid late nights.
  • Avoid naps especially after 4pm.
  • Avoid spicy, sugary or heavy foods before bedtime.
  • Have the room at a cool but comfortable temperature.
  • Block out distracting noise.
  • Don’t sit in bed while studying; reserving bed for sleep only.
  • Warm milk is a good before-bed drink as it is high in tryptophan, which aids sleep.
  • Try relaxation methods before sleeping, such as guided meditation.
  • Write out a to-do list for the next day before getting into bed.
  • Have a pre-sleep ritual e.g. reading or a warm bath.
  • Switch off the electronics, especially phones.

 Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School 

1Actigraphy-assessed sleep during school and vacation periods: a naturalistic study of restricted and extended sleep opportunities in adolescents, by Bei Bei, Nicholas B. Allen, Christian L. Nicholas, Paul Dudgeon, Greg Murray and John Trinder, first published online September 2013. http://goo.gl/ejMPM9

 

Cheryl Critchley is a Australian freelance journalist and mother of three. This article is about

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